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Teachers face new curriculum and evaluation challenges; color codes track classroom progress

The October 17th meeting of Lake Forest Elementary Charter School Board focused on the array of changes teachers face this year.  Teachers have a new curriculum to implement, a new evaluation system, a slew of education bills in the legislature that might effect them and — according to Principal Mardele Early — a lot of concerns.

Teachers will have to implement the new federal Common Core State Standards curriculum this year, as well as Compass, Louisiana’s new teacher evaluation policy.  Formerly teachers were evaluated every three years, but now the state has annual teacher evaluations.  Early said many teachers had asked why the Department of Education did not give the teachers time to learn the new standards before evaluating their adherence to them.

“Teachers are concerned it’s going to take away valuable planning time and preparation time,” Early said.  “Any company knows that people need time for family and time to relax.  One of the things I’ve always make sure of is that there’s a balance.  Yes, they give me 200 or 300 percent.  But on Fridays I try to make them go home… You’re dealing with children.  You have to show up in your best, most relaxed state of mind.”

“They’re getting put out,” board member Gina Dupart said, referring to an occasion when janitors became impatient with teachers working in the building after 6 p.m. and had to make them leave.

Early said that she has always been a “data-driven principal.”  She said that she has always factored student performance and growth into teacher evaluations, but is concerned about the state implementing so many changes at once, during a time when there is still so much uncertainty about precisely what the changes will entail.

“But Mardele, it says right here it’s not intended to create more work,” joked board member Donald Pate, to the delight of the board.

Early said she cannot waste time focus on the politics of education. “My job as the leader is to make [the teachers] comfortable with this,” she said.

Principal Early described some of the methods she uses to monitor the pace of learning at her school.  Classrooms have boards with pieces of paper listing skills the class is currently trying to master.  Color codes in blue, green and purple  indicate the progress being made by the class. With this system, Early and other staff members can simply walk by a classroom and get an idea of how well the students are mastering specific skills.

In professional development sessions, the analysis gets even more specific.  Early and her teachers analyze each student’s progress with academic subjects down to specific skills.  Instructors that taught the student in earlier grade levels weigh in, so they can discuss the student’s development in specific areas throughout their time at Lake Forest.  The next professional development day is scheduled for October 26.

So far this year, parents have received three progress reports.  Report card conferences for the first quarter will take place on Thursday, October 25, from 4:00-6:45 at the school.

At the end of the meeting, the board was introduced to the school’s new Director of Development, Joshua P. Fertitta. Fertitta graduated from Tulane in 2008 and has experience fundraising and pursuing grants for other schools and non-profits.

The next board meeting is scheduled for November 28, after the Thanksgiving holiday.

Present at the meeting were president Lee Caston, Donald Pate, Gina Dupart, Denise Williams and Brian K. Richburg, Sr.  Also present was Bernell St. Cyr.  Absent were Windi Brown and Leila Eames.

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